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MOVIE REVIEWS : Parton Gets Hung Up in Phony 'Talk'

April 03, 1992|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There's always been something endearing about the contrast between Dolly Parton's down-to-earth personality and her glitzy appearance. But the straight dope on "Straight Talk" (citywide) is that it sabotages Parton's fundamental honesty with a plot that's about as real as her wigs. It's jarring to hear so much talk about truth in a film that's synthetic to the core.

Writers Craig Bolotin and Patricia Resnick and director Barnet Kellman arduously maneuver Parton's adorable Shirlee from an Arkansas dance studio to a Chicago radio show, where she is mistaken for a newly hired shrink. After just a few bits of down-home advice on the air from Shirlee, the station's switchboard lights up with 500 calls. Shirlee's an instant local success, with network interest quickly building.

In a laborious early sequence Shirlee has managed to "meet cute" James Woods' workaholic Chicago Sun-Times reporter--twice. Just as predictably as he is going to start digging into Shirlee's background, he is going to fall in love with her and discover that country-style common sense counts for more than academic training.

There is a sweetness and a forthrightness in Parton's presence that are ineradicable, but they have the effect of throwing into relief the film's every contrivance. The movies have not done well by Parton, who's more a personality (and a singer-composer who contributes a number of appropriate songs for the soundtrack) than an actress.

But it is difficult to make her fantasy persona fit into anything very believable in today's world. Perhaps she should take a cue from Mae West, whom she inevitably brings to mind, and try a period piece; the corseted, opulent Lillian Russell look might well be as flattering and effective an image for Parton as it was for West.

For that matter "Straight Talk" is, like West's films, an old-fashioned star vehicle. Woods, properly gallant in the crunch, is very much Parton's leading man rather than co-star. Also in the tradition of West, Parton has surrounded herself with plenty of other stalwart male supporting players. Just for openers, there's Griffin Dunne as a slimy program director, Michael Madsen as Shirlee's worthless ex-boyfriend, John Sayles as her dance studio boss (who fires her for being too good a listener to her pupils' problems), Spalding Gray as an arrogant psychiatrist, Jerry Orbach as Woods' tough-talking editor and Philip Bosco as the gruff radio station owner. Despite their efforts and Parton's own, "Straight Talk" (rated PG for some mildly risque remarks) pretty much goes straight down the tubes.

'Straight Talk'

Dolly Parton: Shirlee

James Wood: Jack

Griffin Dunne: Alan

Michael Madsen: Steve

A Buena Vista release of a Hollywood Pictures presentation in association with Touchwood Pacific Partners I. Director Barnet Kellman. Producers Robert Chartoff, Fred Berner. Executive producers Sandy Gallin, Carol Baum, Howard Rosenman. Screenplay Craig Bolotin, Patricia Resnick; from a story by Bolotin. Cinematographer Peter Sova. Editor Michael Tronick. Costumes Jodie Tillen. Original score and adaptations by Brad Fiedel. Original songs written and performed by Dolly Parton. Production design Jeffrey Townsend. Art director Michael T. Perry. Set decorator Daniel L. May. Sound Glenn Williams. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.

MPAA-rated PG (some mildly risque language).

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